Insight into teenage lives

Helen Brandom
Helen Brandom
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Catherine Scott talks to author Helen Brandom

THE first person voice of troubled teen Amy may not seem like the most obvious choice for a grandparent debut author from Harrogate, but Helen Brandom is no stranger to getting under the skin of diverse characters.

While Writing in the Sand published this month by Usborne, is her debut novel, she has written for stage, radio and television.

She has written a distracted middle-aged woman trying clean a filthy house and cook for a dinner party in her play for Radio 4, Wind of Change, with Alison Steadman playing the woman. In Sky High she created an elderly couple who didn’t want to leave their flat in a high rise development about to be demolished.

In Open to the Public, a Woman’s Hour serial, Helen wrote about a different character every day, Monday to Friday.

“I always felt that I wanted to be a writer,” says Helen. “But it was dialogue I really loved.” Helen grew up in the South of England and moved to Harrogate after having her two boys.

A primary school teacher, she worked as a supply teacher for 18 months when the family first moved to Yorkshire and then when Brackenfield School opened in Harrogate she worked there for seven years.

“I was quite late into teaching as I was a mature student at 33,” explains the grandmother of three. “But I really want to teach five-year-olds. I wanted to be that first person they came across ineducation who really inspired them.”

As a child Helen was an voracious reader and it was a love she wanted to instill in others from a young age.

“I am a volunteer at my local library in Bilton which had been threatened with closure but was saved. I love reading aloud to children and that is something I still love to do at the library.”

As well as teaching, Helen, a keen painter, decided to open an art gallery in the family home, followed by a second one in Otley.

“It was during this time that I really got into writing,” she explains. “I had time as we weren’t always busy so a lot of scripts got penned under the counter. One episode of Coronation Street I worked on, Rita was definitely written under the counter.”
And while she had muich success with her scripts, Helen always harboured 
the idea that she wanted to write a novel.

But it was actually while watching a television programme that the idea for Writing in the Sand came about.

“The start was watching the finals of a talent contest and learning that a brilliant young singer was a carer for both parents. My ears and eyes were suddenly opened, and I noticed everything to do with child carers. I believe there are currently around 166,000 in the UK,” explains Helen

She decided she wanted to write a book for young people and in the first person.

“Although it might seem strange that I am a grandma writing as a teenager, but it has been really well received by the young people on Twitter.

“I listened to a radio programme recently where it stated it’s been proven that our memories from 15 - 25 remain the clearest of our lives. So, although nothing as awful as Amy’s experiences happened to me, during those years I went from exactly 15 and first love, through to marriage and having our first child. I remember it all as clear as a bell! Or most of it.”

She is currently writing her second novel, Truth Hurts, about young love.